Physicians Rallying Against AHF

from – Physicians with AIDS Healthcare Foundation will hold a rally in Hollywood Friday to draw attention to what they say has become a shift in focus by their employer from once providing top-notch care to HIV-positive patients to now spending money on campaigns such as enforcing condoms in pornography.

The march, to be held in front of AHF’s office on Sunset Boulevard, will include doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. About two dozen AHF employees voted on July 31 to unionize.

Physicians say while they are not against AHF founder and executive director Michael Weinstein or advocacy work, they question what they describe as his heavy-handed policies on patient loads and lack of staffing.

“Our very real concern is patient care,” said Dr. Kim Sommers, medical director at AHF’s Hollywood Healthcare Center, who has worked there for a year and feels those making decisions on patient quotas have no medical backgrounds.

Sommers said she and the others have felt hamstrung by top-level supervisors regarding their concerns about patient loads and quotas — up to 21 a day per doctor, in some cases. They’re also short-staffed, and there is a lack of Spanish-speaking translators, she noted.

“Advocacy is an important component, but we feel AHF has lost sight of its mission,” Sommers said. She said clinics have been seeing more urgent-care patients, adding to the load.

“Unionizing is a last resort,” Sommers said. “We know our patients. We love them. We just want to care for them better.”

Weinstein said he respects their right to unionize. But he also said a consensus was reached among physicians years ago that they would see 14 patients per day, which is low compared to many programs, he added.

“I don’t understand why they are calling this ‘patients before profits,’ Weinstein said of the motto physicians have chosen. “We’re a nonprofit; 96 cents for every dollar goes to patients. We serve 230,000 patients worldwide, including 7,000 in Los Angeles, and those patients trust us with their lives.

“This organization started from nothing and has thrived over 26 years. We’ve created the largest and most successful AIDS organization in the world. We look forward to working with all of the staff to continue to grow and improve our care system.”

As head of AHF, Weinstein has pressed aggressively in the last year to promote mandatory use of condoms in porn. But AHF has also been embroiled in a Los Angeles County audit for allegedly overbilling the Department of Public Health by $1.7 million in fiscal year 2008-09.

In addition, AHF led a ballot initiative to force the city of L.A. to create its own health agency, under the argument that the county department is a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy. It has pending lawsuits against the county over both its contracting practices and its response to syphilis and meningitis outbreaks.

“The big-picture problem with Michael Weinstein is his board has few physicians on it,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. “We believe their priorities are wrong. There’s high turnover, continuity of care is gone, and there’s not an adequate staff.”

Weinstein said four of 16 board members are physicians and some on the board are nurses, he said.

Rosselli said Friday’s rally is meant to garner attention from AHF patients, politicians and other opinion makers and to gain support for the physicians’ desire to form a union.

Dr. James Adams, a physician who works out of the AHF Westside Healthcare Center in Beverly Hills, said quality of care is first on the doctors’ list. “In our venture to unionize, we need to find issues we can be proud to advocate for,” he said. “Through all the smog and noise and the roller-coaster rides, I try to stick to what’s important, which is learning from my patients and trying to help them stay healthy.”


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